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SBA deputy administrator discusses business ownership at veterans’ event

By Eric Reinhardt


ONONDAGA — After they’ve served their country, veterans are encouraged to seek the services of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for help in launching and growing their own business ventures.

That was the message Marie Johns, the SBA’s deputy administrator, delivered in her remarks during Operation: Start Up & Grow, the SBA’s sixth annual business conference for the military community held Thursday, March 21, at Onondaga Community College (OCC).

More than 250,000 service members are annually transitioning out of the military possessing the skills, experience, and leadership to start businesses and create jobs in their communities, Johns said in her remarks.

“So our goal at the SBA is to make sure that we give each of you the tools you need to make informed decisions about whether you should pursue business ownership, and if you do, how to make that business grow,” Johns added.

For the SBA, that means providing the capital, the counseling, and the access to federal-contracting opportunities to help veteran entrepreneurs start their business and grow successfully, she said.

Supporting loans to small businesses that have challenges obtaining credit in the conventional credit markets is one of the most important services the SBA provides, Johns said.

“So, our loan programs have a strong track record of leveraging billions of dollars in credit to help small-business owners and entrepreneurs nationwide start and grow their businesses so that they can create jobs,” Johns explained.

For example, in fiscal year 2012, SBA approved more than 3,200 loans to veteran business owners supporting a total of more than $2.1 billion in capital. The agency’s Patriot Express loan program was specifically designed to offer low-interest loans to members of the veteran and military community, and it supported more than $580 million in lending to veteran entrepreneurs and small-business owners over the past four years, Johns said.

Counseling is another important component of the SBA’s services, Johns added.

Nationwide, the agency annually counsels more than 200,000 veterans, service-disabled veterans, and reservists. And the SBA conducts the counseling through a network of resource partners that includes the Small Business Development Centers, such as the one at OCC, the Women’s Business Centers, and the SCORE volunteers.

“We engage our veterans through that network of 68 local SBA district offices, 16 veteran business-outreach centers, and our partnership with 1,000 Small Business Development Centers, and we have 12,000 SCORE counselors,” Johns said.

SCORE is a Herndon, Va.–based nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get started, grow, and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.

The SBA also has a program called Boots to Business, which is focused on providing the training, the tools, and the resources veterans need to make the successful transition back into the community as successful business leaders, Johns said.

In 2012, the SBA joined with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to launch that pilot program.

“Boots to Business provides entrepreneurial training to transitioning service members from every branch of the military at 151 locations across the country,” Johns said.

The program includes an exposure to entrepreneurship as a potential career path that’s offered to every service member as he or she is leaving the military. Those interested can opt-in to a program tract that offers an in-person training course, including interactive classroom-based learning. The next step is a feasibility analysis on a potential business plan, and if a veteran wants to continue, there’s an eight-week online course on the fundamentals of small-business ownership.

“For the men and women of our military who want to leverage their skills to become small-business owners and entrepreneurs, this program provides exactly the types of resources and counseling that will increase the likelihood of their success,” Johns said.

The agency also plays a role in helping small-business owners pursue federal-government contracts. More than $90 billion of the almost half-a-trillion dollar government-contracting market goes to small businesses. Federal contracting provides “a critical tool” for small-business owners to help them grow, drive innovation, and create jobs.

“At the SBA, we’re responsible for ensuring that 23 percent of the federal-contracting dollars go to small businesses, and furthermore that 3 percent of that federal-contracting spent goes to service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses,” Johns said.

In a separate interview with The Central New York Business Journal, Johns said the federal sequestration budget cuts are having an impact on the SBA. The cuts will affect the agency’s loan-subsidy dollars “to the tune of about $900 million,” which will impact the SBA’s ability to support “probably 2,000 fewer loans,” Johns said.

 “We’re doing our best to manage our resources as efficiently as we can, but it does have a detrimental impact on our ability to serve small companies.”

Johns has served as SBA’s deputy administrator since June 2010. Under her leadership, SBA had back-to-back record years of lending, supporting more than $30 billion in loans annually in 2011 and 2012. As the deputy administrator, Johns is focused on ensuring that underserved communities, including women, minorities, veterans, and young people, have the tools and resources they need to start businesses and create good-paying jobs.


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